Ronnie Polkingham's half sister was a woman named Debbie. As a young woman she was slim, attractive and carefree, playing in a band with her lover Bruce in Missouri, USA. But her free-spirited life took a twist when she fell pregnant at 18, gave birth to her first son and predictably, Bruce left. Her beauty and innocence began to fade behind the mask of smoke, struggles with mental health and financial hardship.
As a single mother on the poverty line, she brought her son up in a predominantly black neighbourhood as one of only three white families on their block. The threat of violence was inevitable and became more than a threat on multiple occasions, including an assault that lead to her son suffering a serious head injury.
As well as being a victim of bullying, her boy was a regular truant and often fought with Debbie in their volatile household, attracting the attention of social services. It was no surprise that he became a loner and with little interest in High School, he found comfort and ambition in the world of comic books. He escaped real life, diving into the magic of storytelling and decided to become a comic book artist.
That was until Uncle Ronnie turned up at his home holding in his hands a gift. The gift of hip hop.
Hip hop continues to be huge part of global pop culture, originating from the black ghettos of 1970s and 1980s America. Then, hip hop was a small scene, giving a voice to frustrated, angry young African Americans and Latinos living in marginalised communities and low income areas. Actually it took years of block parties in the Bronx, New York before a recording was actually made and many music critics of the early 80s predicted hip hop would fizzle out.
Hip hop did not fizzle out. Quite the opposite.
Uncle Ronnie's gift was a vinyl record; the track was called 'Reckless' by The Glove and Dave Storrs, whom most of us have never heard of. But the track also featured a rapper who was little-known at the time, called Tracy Lauren Marrow. Another forgettable name, but presumably why he chose the stage name Ice-T.
The gesture was a small one, costing a little over $2. But Ronnie could not possibly have predicted that his modest kindness would trigger the start of a musical revolution.
His nephew had never heard anything like it. He played it over and again. Maybe it was the lyrics, the rapper's attitude and what he stood for; only the boy really knows. But it opened the door to a new world of creativity and possibility.
Despite the violence, dropping out of school and being kicked out of home on multiple occasions the troubled teen found solace in the underground music scene in his new home city of Detroit, pursuing his new dream of becoming a rapper, just like Ice-T.
The boy's name was Marshall Bruce Mathers III and under the stage name Eminem, he became the biggest selling rapper of all time. Despite criticism for backing a white rapper, Dr Dre who signed him to Aftermath Records reportedly said "I don't give a fuck if you're purple; if you can kick it, I'm working with you."
Eminem certainly kicked it. Some 220 million records later, neither Kanye or Jay Z have come close to matching these sales and despite Spotify not existing at the height of his success, Eminem still boasts 36 million listeners on the platform.
Marshall Bruce Mathers III had two gifts. The first was the gift of struggle. The violence, poverty and hardships gave him the narrative, the neighbourhood a platform and his skin colour made it harder. The struggle was the fuel and it showed up as pain, distress, sadness, frustration, anger, despair, hardship, fear and no doubt much more.
The second gift was from Uncle Ronnie. The gift of inspiration from someone he trusted. Let's call this the spark.
(Struggle + Inspiration) + Environment = Superpower
Or written differently: (Fuel + Spark) + Oxygen = Fire
CEO & Co-founder of the PopUp Business School.